New Skills PR Professionals Might Consider

I’m not saying you need all of these, or even any of them, but I’m often asked ‘what’s next’ and what smart public relations and communications professionals can do to make themselves more useful to their organisations. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Learn To Code
It’s not enough to have a static message anymore, you should consider building interactive digital assets. They can seriously enhance a story and make it much harder to ignore you. Check for an example. It’s as simple as data exported from an EXCEL spreadsheet, displayed in an engaging way and with a nice interface for users to input their data. It’s not the most advanced piece of code you’ll ever encounter but that’s the point – if an organisation had that ability within its communications team there would be no need to outsource to a software developer. A bit of ‘coding awareness’, your confidence would grow and you’d see opportunities to take drab press releases and turn them into multimedia attractions. There was a time when a skill such as ‘typing’ was the domain of a few specialists, now it’s something we all expect to do. I think the same will be true of coding in a few years.

2) Become A Drone Pilot
You know video is where it’s at and think of the possibilities if you were able to take to the skies to get your footage! Hiring in outside help is expensive and means everything has to be planned in advance. You’re beholden to someone else’s availability. So why not learn? A decent drone can be yours for around £1,000, follow the safety guidelines and acceptable use and you can build up some practice, before undergoing more formal training and then seeking certification for commercial drone flying. This has the potential to turn into a nice sideline business of your own.

3) Analyse Data
It amazes me the number of organisations where communications and PR teams DON’T have access to website data analytics. You don’t need to know Google Analytics inside out but I think everyone in our field should have a grasp of the basics. Where do website visitors come from, which social media channel is the most effective in terms of your business objectives (not just the number of visitors) what do they do on your site, the pages that work, and those that don’t. That allows you to make informed decisions about what to change and goes some of the way to solving the issue around ‘how do we measure the success of our PR work?’. Get to grips with Google analytics ‘Goals’ and set up filters to keep the data pure. Lots of free training is available for this and it’s nowhere near as daunting as it looks.

4) Leadership
When I started my career, the accountants always ended up running the place. That’s starting to change. Smart organisations recognise the communications revolution and the need to adapt. That means a change in culture – becoming more transparent, sorting out their ethics and starting to engage their staff. That’s where you come in. There’s an opportunity for communications professionals to get right to the top. Are leaders born or bred? I’ll leave that to the experts but I know what a 12 week course of management training did for my confidence back in 2003 – even if you don’t end up an MD or CEO it’ll take you forward in other ways. Better still if you can get your employer to pay for the training. Get in the bosses’s face when they’re talking about succession planning.

5) Presenting
If you can back up confident presentation skills with substance you’re in a great position. Sometimes you’ll be pitching to external clients and stakeholders, sometimes it’s your own team or another department…the fact is standing up and talking – explaining, convincing, persuading – is becoming a daily part of our working lives. I meet people all the time who tell me they’re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at presenting as though somehow once you’ve done it a few times your abilities are set in stone. It’s not like that at all. Take control, get some practice and feedback and start presenting with confidence. Want to improve your presentation skills – you can.

6) IT/Computer Literacy Skills
My Dad is amazing at DIY. And I’m abysmal. I watched him doing some work in my house once and realised that where I’d always thought he was blessed with some sort of incredible skill and talent in this area he actually isn’t. Instead, he’s got a solid understanding, a tonne of experience but above all an attitude that when he encounters a new problem, he’ll find a way round it. He expects to be able to solve the problem. Sometimes it involves trial and error. Sometimes he’ll look up the answer in a book or on the internet. Sometimes he’ll ask someone more experienced and skilled than himself. There’s no innate gift. Whereas when I try a DIY job I lose my mind at the slightest issue and never recover. It’s the same for some people with IT and computer literacy. What do you do if you can’t hear yourself on Skype? How do you set up Dropbox to allow someone else to send you files? Do you know how to turn on ‘screen mirroring’ on your laptop? There’s a myriad of things of course and I’m not for a minute suggesting you go behind the IT department’s back and start changing settings without permission. Instead, get a grip on the basics and an understanding of their world. There are some things you WON’T be able to do and if your IT colleagues recognise you as someone that’s made an effort to understand them, it’ll hold you in good stead. And being able to quickly use your phone and laptop to their full potential will make your life much easier and you’ll be more effective and confident in your role.

7) Practice Mindfulness
Us humans were never designed to live in towns and cities let alone carry mobile phones around with us all day. Work, rest and play have all changed dramatically in the last few years and since the economic collapse of 2008 we’ve all probably felt an increase in pressure to some degree. It’s probably not going away anytime soon and the one constant is change. It seems that change is constantly relentless and some pretty smart people are predicting even greater ‘digital disruption’ lies ahead, impacting every business and organisation significantly in the next few years. Driverless cars anyone?! We’ve all got a responsibility to look after our health and wellbeing and it’s great that some of the stigma around mental health is now being overcome. It improves our lives and makes us more effective – why wouldn’t you want to embrace it! ‘Mindfulness’ is the current term that we hear a lot but you might find value in particular books, yoga, meditation, or where appropriate some form of counselling. Think about your mental health but also learn to understand everyone else you meet will have their own world view and their own way of working. There are some great practitioners working in this field – Connie McLaughlin for example is doing some outstanding work with people to lead teams.




Theresa May 2017 Conservative Party Conference Speech

As she reflects on her keynote party conference speech, Prime Minister Theresa May might console herself with the thought that none of what went wrong was actually her fault.

A prankster using her moment for his own ends, a nasty cough, and some letters falling off the wall…she can’t be blamed for any of that, can she?

Actually, I think she can. And here’s why.

Because while she’s giving that speech, she’s disrespecting the audience in the room and trying to manipulate everyone else.

That prankster was only able to hand her a P45 because the space at the front of the stage is given over to media and the team who handle the accreditation didn’t bother checking who he was. Laura Kuenssberg, Buzzfeed, a Blue Peter Press Packer – come on in, we’ll treat you like shit the rest of the time but if you do a piece on this big speech we’ll treat you like royalty. The party – which she leads – bends over backwards to accommodate anyone who might possibly give them any amount of the coverage they crave. And the Tories aren’t alone in this. For as long as I can remember major political party conference speeches have been far less about what goes on in the room and much more about the headlines it all generates on the 10 o’clock news. And so just like Calvin Harris with a pineapple on his head on XFactor, this ‘event’ has become a magnet for anyone who fancies trying to upstage the host.

Those letters on the wall aren’t there for the benefit of the members who attend. They look ridiculous from the back of the room. They exist because May and her team know that their message is so weak and disjointed that they have to hammer it home so that newspapers running pictures of her speaking and TV news channels showing short clips have no choice but to run pictures of her and the key slogan or strap line they want to highlight side by side. What does that say about the quality of her speech – that the key point has to be rammed home in big letters above her head. It makes Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ look inspired. At least he had to remember his line and deliver it with conviction.

And that cough..well, by her own spokesperson’s admission, that’s the risk you take when you give 19 interviews in a couple of days. She should have treated her audience with more respect and saved herself, but no, she wanted the media headlines, she wanted the coverage, she wanted to control the story and manipulate the wider audience to try and save her job.

I can just imagine her. ‘This is my chance to get my message across!’ – you’re leader of the damn country, you should be getting your message across every day of your life. And if you’re not, it’s going to take more than a conference speech to sort things out.

Theresa May deserves all she gets. And Corbyn, Sturgeon, Blair, Brown, Hague, Salmond, Davidson and the rest should count themselves lucky it didn’t happen to them. They’ve all been guilty of using what should be speeches to their party members to compensate for the fact that a chunk of the general population doesn’t like them/understand them/listen to them…whatever.

The first rule of any presentation, any speech…any situation where you have an audience and a message is respect the audience. And for a conference speech, that means the audience right there, in the room.

Put them first and focus on them. Don’t bother about letting all the media in at the front. Forget about the branding and strap lines. Spare us the bright lights and pounding music. Concentrate on the message.

And for God’s sake…demonstrate some leadership.

Politicians Learning To Be Nice

It’s true.

As this Tweet from Kate Forbes MSP explains, the Scottish Parliament recently held an event titled ‘Respectful Dialogue In Politics’.
















And I think all those who attended deserve credit. The truth is, despite the easy jokes about what a shock it is that MSPs would even contemplate treating each other with respect – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our parliament at Holyrood is the envy of countries all over the world because of its openness and atmosphere. And we’re lucky – so many of our elected representatives believe passionately in equality, fairness, trust and, of course, respect.

What we see on television and read about in newspapers is only a fraction of what goes on in the building at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and an even smaller slice of what the people involved get up to across the rest of their working lives.

So why does politics sometimes get a reputation as being ‘nasty’? And why, sometimes, do good people who know better find themselves drawn into situations where they resort to…well, let’s just call it ‘less respectful dialogue’?

I believe it all comes down to stress. It’s easy to speak in a respectful manner when you’ve got all the time you need. It’s tougher when you have to be extremely succinct. Tougher still when before you’ve even explained yourself someone else is going to argue. And nigh impossible when you might get heckled and interrupted. And remember before MSPs get to stand in the chamber and have those exchanges with their political opponents, they’ve probably had years climbing the ranks and dealing with competitors within their own party. It’s easy to see how some bad habits and ‘siege tactics’ might develop.

Then we have the media. Much of what the Scottish Parliament does is deathly boring. It might be important, in the long run, but for a media which has put resources into covering the parliament that’s no use. It needs stories and action every single day. And the easiest way to get that? Rows.

And politicians fall into the trap of giving them that, even when there’s no need.

A classic example came in the summer when former SNP leader, former First Minister and former MP Alex Salmond announced the launch of his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Newspapers and TV news outlets sought comment from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. And of course, they gave the newspapers the comment and the criticism they wanted.

Why? There’s no need. The guy is no longer involved in politics. I’m sure he’ll be back but right now, politically, he’s nowhere. There’s no reason to comment and no reason to say anything other than ‘we wish him well’. What difference does it make to those parties whether a guy that used to represent the other lot does a comedy show at the Fringe? Slagging him off, as they did, just smacks of bitterness.

I don’t blame the media for asking for a quote, of course. But they should have asked an arts critic for comment and left it at that.

But what we have of course is ‘politics as entertainment’ and characters and caricatures built up as versions of themselves to be taken apart.

Spend some time at the Scottish Parliament and you’ll be amazed at the unity within the place. The amount on which all parties agree. The work they do and matters discussed that never make the headlines. The gentle, quiet, chipping away at old laws and bureaucracy and new legislation that goes in its place.

Of course, they don’t always get it right and it’s right that passionate, fierce, angry debate is encouraged and reported on.

But you can do all that and still remain respectful. And the majority of our parliamentarians do.

Maybe it’s time the media recognised that and gave them some space to get on with it.



It’s All About The Experience

There’s irrefutable evidence that the unique ‘experience’ is what we all want these days.

A recent article about Barrhead Travel’s expansion highlighted the demand for customised holiday experiences, rather than simply cheap flights and hotels.

I’ve just spent a small fortune in the M+Ms store at Leicester Square, buying gifts for the family. I’d mentioned after my last trip to London that there was an amazing 4 storey building devoted to the tiny little sweets and mentioned some of the merchandise it sold. This turned into a full blown discussion about the madness of it all, but after I showed my Mum some YouTube clips from other visitors she was quickly won over and insisted I brought her something back from my next trip! And then there’s my kids…my nephews etc etc!

Round the corner in Covent Garden, ice cream giant Magnum has a pop up shop where you can ‘make your own Magnum’ and then eat it in the cafe area. At every stage in the process, there are opportunities to take and share pictures of you ‘experiencing’ Magnum on social media. It’s like the ‘Build A Bear’ workshop for adults!

Smart brands are going to great lengths to unlock there’s ‘experience’ opportunities.









It could be expanding a range of merchandise, bringing products to life, turning them into characters, or letting people in on the creative process…how are these products made? Can customers ‘have a go’ at making their own?

Break down your customer journey and your manufacturing process and look for opportunities to let people in and turn it into an attraction.

Perhaps radio cou

ld turn weekly playlist meetings or music research into an event, which as well as gathering useful focus group, market research data, also serves as a powerful marketing activity.

Choose selected listeners who’ve downloaded your app, send them push notifications and invite them along to the ‘Playlist Night’. Put on some food and drink, show them round, explain how you choose what songs get played, let them hear the latest releases and canvas their views.

Many stations I listen to have white label ‘dating’ apps. Why not turn the ‘playlist night’ into a ‘music testing/speed dating’ event. You could charge a modest admission fee for that and you’d be giving a desirable audience a unique experience they’ll tell their friends about, thus marketing your station.

And if you think ‘nice idea but no-one will ever do it’ – think again. Some station already is because I’ve just overheard a woman raving about the whole experience to her friend on the tube. It’s the first time in years I’ve overheard someone talking enthusiastically about something involving a radio station.

Much is made of the digital revolution. But ‘digital’ alone is 1s and 0s and boring as hell. Digital that works is expressing the physical in a digital space. Enjoying a unique real life experience and keeping a permanent digital record that we carry with us everywhere we go and expressing how that physical experience has made us feel, in the digital realm.

Think about how you can unlock the unique experiences associated with your business.

Union Jack Radio Advert At Scotland Game

If the object of advertising is to raise awareness and get yourself talked about, then mission accomplished for the team at Union Jack Radio.

Their pitchside digital display ad during tonight’s Men’s World Cup Qualifier at Hampden has put a radio station few had heard of previously right at the heart of the conversation – look at this:

So what’s happened…don’t they understand?!

You might argue ‘Why the fuss?, Why shouldn’t Scotland embrace the Union Flag and enjoy a radio station that plays the best British music?’

A valid argument perhaps but it’s about context. And in the context of football, especially the Scotland national team, playing at home, at Hampden, the Union Flag doesn’t really figure. And for once, it’s not a debate about independence or remaining part of the union, the flag itself just doesn’t figure, regardless of political beliefs.

My personal belief (and that’s all – I’ve no knowledge of this particular situation) is that an advertising agency bought some space, probably part of a blanket campaign to involve promoting Union Jack Radio at ALL the home nations’ World Cup qualifiers. They haven’t thought, haven’t realised, just had an opportunity and threw their logo at it.

What they do next is the important bit.

Because cheeky advertising is bang on the brand values for Union Jack Radio (and its better known sister station Jack FM.) Tongue in cheek is what they do, and with this pitch side advertising at Hampden, they might have inadvertently stumbled into something that could truly connect and go viral.

So, if they’re smart, they’ll respond to some of these Tweets from incensed Scotland fans. Maybe reference the score. Some Scottish bands. Opt out of their jukebox for a bit and hire a well known Scottish personality to host some programmes for them. Or – and I believe the technology would allow for this – change their advert in the 2nd half to reference the slagging they’re currently taking on Twitter.

It’s easy to get reach and awareness these days. True engagement is harder, and to get Scottish football fans to scan their digital radios for a new station and actually give it a listen, is nigh impossible.

But if Union Jack follows up what many believe to be a mistake with something clever and utilise real-time, then they could still win some new fans before the final whistle blows.

The key is the follow up. Trolling Scotland fans and making them angry doesn’t constitute marketing ‘genius’ although I’ll bet some self-appointed PR ‘guru’ writes a blog in the morning suggesting it does. No, reach and getting talked about is the easy part. For this particular piece of advertising to have any value, Union Jack Radio needs us to listen.

The Problem With Half-Baked Blogs

Last week, a friend mentioned a business I hadn’t heard of before.

And the first thing I did?

Looked up their website.

Of course it was perfectly slick and visually impressive but what about the people behind this business? Were they everything they claimed to be? Could I trust them? What were they really like? Were they busy and doing well, do they know what they’re talking about or was it all just bluster? Is the business run by local people that know this area or is it a big organisation down south that’s been able to get to the top of the Google rankings?

The website itself couldn’t give me all the answers, so I looked deeper.

And this is something I do on almost every website of every business I look at – I clicked on the page titled ‘Blog’.

It’s there I often get better insight into what things are really like. And if the page is ‘half-baked’ – e.g. says simply ‘coming soon’ or there’s one post from April 2012, another from July 2014 and nothing since, then for me it can set alarm bells ringing.

Of course there’s often a very good reason why a blog can be half-baked, for example the business owner is too busy getting on with work to sit down and write one and there have been times I’ve been in that position myself.

So, if you’ve got a ‘Blog’ page on your website, ask yourself if you really are committed to it. Do you want to keep it? Are you prepared to update it – at least once a month? If you’re not, take it down, because a half-baked blog makes you look bad.

A good blog can be a highly effective and low cost form of marketing. It can explain who you are and what you do, attract the right sort of customer, educate them a little in terms of how you like to do business, and, crucially, bring in enquiries while you’re busy working.

Many business owners I know like to use ‘ghost writing’ blogging services in conjunction with their own efforts. This means the ghost writing service might create 2-3 posts a week, while the business owner might manage one a month. It saves time and gets content published but I always worry about the loss of the authentic voice. As a customer, I like to know that what I’m reading some straight from the mind of the business owner and I do think audiences can spot a fraud.

Of course there are good and bad blogging services and a good one should be able to understand what you would be saying and how you’d say it if you were writing every post yourself, and so audiences couldn’t tell the difference. Whatever you decide, I think it’s important to do at least SOME of the blogging yourself.

Many of us have been sold this myth that a blog post someone has to be equivalent in length to an essay. It doesn’t! Some of the best blogs I read are extremely short. A nice rule of thumb is one thought = one blog. And if you can do that in a couple of sentences…well done!

The key is to add value. To give your audience something useful, interesting, humorous…get it right and you’ll start enjoying the writing and, I hope, see some interesting new opportunities emerging for your business.

Can Town Centre Drone Racing Save Your High Street?

If you haven’t seen ‘Drone Racing League’ on Sky Sports, take a look at this:

Now let’s play with the idea a little and see if there’s a way of adapting this emerging sport into a family friendly large scale event in high streets and town centres all over the country.

There’s a million reasons NOT to do it and many problems to overcome but imagine crowds lining either side of a pedestrianised street, video screens showing feeds straight from the drones as they race up and down and in and out of empty shop buildings (which for the purposes of the event become a positive asset rather than a hindrance).

Think of the sponsorship potential – individual races, the course, various stunts and obstacles, disused premises – all present opportunities for branding and sales.

And think about the signal it sends out. The energy and enthusiasm it starts to have people associate with your town centre? When was the last time something genuinely exciting happened in your high street? People throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK and beyond are currently clamouring for opportunities either to race drones or to watch, and they’re having to go to large out of town sites to do it. That could change.

No surprise it’s already happening in America.

But now in the UK various drone racing groups are being formed and despite what you might read in the media, many drone enthusiasts are responsible and abide by the rules. They’d welcome the opportunity to show off what they can do and discuss their hobby in more detail. If you’re a forward thinking local authority looking for that ‘wow factor’ and something different, why not bring them right into the heart of one of your greatest assets, before the shopping centres start doing it.

What about the tourism potential for some of Scotland’s islands? Imagine a drone racing grand prix taking in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae, Skye and Arran?

‘Endeavour’ or ‘Try’?












What do you do?

In ‘Plain English’ and ‘Kill The Jargon’ sections of my training we take on corporate-speak.

It’s easy to rant and insist every last example should be eliminated but can it really.

The ‘endeavour vs try’ debate is an interesting one.

My 5 year old son ‘tries’.

A Scottish Government quango, utilities company or major employer..really, should organisations like this be ‘trying’?

Or is it OK for them to endeavour?

When you’re thinking about style guides, tone and use of language on your website and social media, don’t let ‘Plain English’ become a vague aspiration. Think about what it’s going to mean to you in practice, day in, day out. And live it.

Could your organisation say ‘we’ll try’ instead of ‘we’ll endeavour’?

And what would the effect be if it did?

I can tell you. If you took ‘Plain English’ to that degree, pretty soon you’d start changing your company culture.

And that would be no bad thing. It’s going to have to change soon anyway.

Live Interviews Are Getting Tougher

What the usual pundits forgot to mention in their rush to slag off Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn for failing to remember the facts in those horrendous election campaign interviews they gave, was what this tells us about live interviews in the digital age.

Radio presenters and producers like the folk you’ll encounter at LBC, talkSport, BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and so on are now being judged on how they perform on social media.

It might not be a formal ‘more hits = more pay’ but it’s a metric that’s given serious consideration.

All those clips of James O’Brien on Facebook will have an influence on his ratings and his position at the station. He wants success on the radio and he also wants success on social media.

And so when programme teams are preparing for interviews, I believe they are now going looking for the social media ‘moment’.

It’s routine now that the majority of radio interviews will be filmed. The cameras will be recording as soon as you enter the studio and they’ll keep going during any breaks in the programme. Mics down and red light off? Everything you say as you begin to relax in the presenter’s company is still being recorded and can be used against you!

Live radio interviews now require you to contend with a presenter who has set out from the beginning to break you. To find the moment you’re going to fall apart. Where you’ll go off message (or fail to communicate ANY message) and deliver that viral social media sensation they want so much.

Of course, Abbott and Corbyn deserved all they got for failing to put forward even the basic numbers. The questions they were asked weren’t even challenging. But it’s important you understand that live radio presenters are going out looking for those moments.

Don’t become a victim. The best approach is to practice. Practice with someone who truly understands the modern media environment and if you are more experienced at giving broadcast interviews recognise that the environment has changed. ‘Busking it’ is a dangerous game these days.

As well as our media training workshops and on demand training videos, we offer private 1-1 interview practice sessions in person, on the phone or via Skype. We can go through the questions you’re likely to be asked, I’ll help you craft answers and show you where all the pitfalls are. To find out more call 0808 133 1353 or use the ‘Contact‘ page.

It’s easy to laugh when others mess up. It’s much smarter to learn from what’s happened to them.


Instagram Stories – Can Your Small Business Use Them?

Should your business use Instagram Stories?

Of course!

But will creating Instagram Stories help your business grow?

Should you use this new feature?

Probably not.

It helps to understand the motivation behind the launch of the new Instagram Stories.

It’s due to demand from big brands and publishers, who want a method of stitching together short snappy clips of video into longer strands of content.

These big brands, publishers and celebrities, all of whom are likely to become the power users of Instagram Stories, have the reach required to make the most of the new feature.

The same applies to Snapchat – without large reach in (at least) the tens of thousands – you won’t be able to make a significant impact with your content and with a shelf life of just 24 hours it won’t drive whatever results you’re aiming for.

You’ll end up in constant ‘trying to grow followers’ mode and this will lead to frustration and time wasted.

Keep in mind too the difficulty in linking outside Instagram and Snapchat to your own website and other platforms. You are heavily restricted.

The majority of business I work with don’t have ‘fans’. Neither do they have content so interesting that it merits regular video clips. Instead, they have regular customers who deal with them directly and then have a very large, untapped audience they hope will stumble across them one day via searches or recommendations.

Instagram Stories and Snapchat COULD help with this, in theory, and for some sectors might make sense. But for most businesses that I deal with their time would be far better spent on an activity such as blogging.

It might lack the excitement of Instagram Stories and Snapchat but it provides regular, ‘sticky’ content with a long term shelf life and hyperlinks back to your website. Blogs don’t need to be long or complicated. Try and include a picture and if you want you could even film a short video of you summarising what you’ve just written and post it to YouTube.

If you’re not sure what to write about in your blog, jot down a dozen questions a potential customer might have about your business and set about answering them, one at a time. If you publish one a week, you now have blog posts for the next 3 months.

And if writing isn’t your strong point, you should consider my Writing For Digital workshop. Get in touch for details.